On this day 87 years ago the entrepreneur and businessman Asa Griggs Candler died of the consequences of a stroke three years earlier. Candler had not only been mainly responsible for making Coca Cola the most popular soft drink worldwide, he had also served as Atlanta’s 44th Mayor (1917-1919), influencing the city’s finances and construction works, and used most of the vast fortune made with Coca Cola to pay back what he felt was his due to society.
He was born on Dec. 30, 1851, in Vial Rica, Georgia, into a large farmer’s family. Instead of finishing school, adolescent Asa became a drugstore assistant in Atlanta, where years later he tasted Coca-Cola for the first time at Jacob’s Pharmacy, the only place then where this brownish syrup added to carbonated water could be purchased for the fixed price of 5 cents.
The inventor of the drink was the local pharmacist Dr. John Stith Pemberton (1831-1888), who had first produced an alcoholic version called “French Wine Coca”, containing wine, extracts from the leaf of Peruvian Coca and the Kola nut. When prohibition was introduced in Atlanta in 1886, he came up with the non-alcoholic Coca-Cola, praised not only for its refreshing effects, but also for its medicinal qualities.
Contrary to Pemberton, Asa Candler perceived at once the business potential of this new soft drink, and when Pemberton eventually sold most of his business, Candler stepped in at once.
By 1891 he was the sole owner of all the rights, had perfected the ‘secret formula’ and in–between embarked on an original and aggressive publicity campaign that spread the drink’s popularity throughout the US in no time. Famous among his innovative marketing ingredients were coupons handed out for a complimentary glass of Coca-Cola.
Candler did not at first see the possibility of selling the drink in transportable glass bottles. This idea came to Joseph A. Biedenharn in Vicksburg, Mississippi, who set up a bottling machine in the backyard and began selling bottled Coca-Cola on 12 March 1894. From 1899 onwards, a number of different companies nationwide became specialised in large-scale bottling.
Meanwhile, Asa Candler began investing in Atlanta City. At the beginning of the 20th century he had the 17-storey Candler Building built in eastern downtown, then the tallest highrise of the city. Concluded in 1906, it became the headquarters of Candler’s newly established Central Bank and Trust Corporation. He developed the Druid Hills neighbourhood, a suburban area of Atlanta. Furthermore, he financed the construction of a modern Methodist Hospital, now called Emory University Hospital. In 1914 he donated a huge sum of money and land to build a Southeastern Methodist University with campus, the Emory University, which opened in 1917 and evolved to become a well-endowed institution of international repute. In 1916, Candler was elected Mayor of Atlanta, a post in which his wealth of business experience and organisational talent proved invaluable, especially after the Great Atlanta fire in 1917. Candler never ceased giving help and money where needed, and when he died, Atlanta lost the citizen that had probably influenced it more than any other single person.
You may also be interested in the following:
- All about the History of Coca-Cola, and more, on the main site
- Coca-Cola‘s History with illustrative ads
- More about A. G. Candler
- Candler from a business perspective